Laceyville residents living near the site of a proposed waste water treatment facility watched and listened closely last Tuesday (Jan. 24) as company officials from FAST Recycling laid out their plans to turn the former Laceyville Elementary School into a 24-hour recycling center for the oil and gas industry.
But several voiced strong concerns about the proposed site on Lacey Street, saying the neighborhood was a poor choice to accommodate a high volume of truck traffic, which FAST Recycling head Greg Miller admitted could mean as many as 100 trucks a day carrying as much as 10,000 barrels of waste water.
Locals also expressed serious concerns about what they fear to be the inevitability of accidents involving trucks or waste water spills. Some said they considered those to be accidents waiting to happen.
The informational meeting at Skinner’s Eddy United Methodist Church was sponsored by the Braintrim Township supervisors to provide Texas-based FAST Recycling an opportunity to explain how it uses filtration technology to turn fracking wastewater into reusable brine, or salt water.
Miller said he plans to service all producers in the region.
He also said his company has between $10 and $15 million invested in the proposed facility, most through the permit application process, and that it was the second type of this facility with which he has been involved.
Miller said he expects to hire between 15 and 25 people.
A similar facility, operated by Eureka Resources of Williamsport, currently operates in Standing Stone Township, Bradford County.
“We want to be a big employer in this area,” Miller said.
Laceyville Mayor Phil Brewer shared his concerns about the increase in truck traffic, concerns he has raised since first learning of the proposal by a letter sent officials late last year.
“I cannot fathom 100 trucks a day going in and out of that area,” Brewer told Miller at the meeting. “For me it really is a big issue,” he said.
Alexis Muench, whose in-laws who frequently watch her children live across street from the former school, repeatedly voiced her skepticism and questioned the wisdom of choosing Lacey Street with so many other available alternatives.
“There are a ton of open areas. We got farms. We got a ton of land. Why here? Why right in the middle of a residential area?” Muench asked.
Miller said they selected the site because it is an attractive structure with close proximity to waste water producing wells.
Muench also shared her fears for years down the road if the plant is found not to be as safe as Miller and his colleagues insist it will be, much like how the dangers of asbestos and lead paint lurked unknown to the public for decades.
“I would love to say I believe you but,” Muench said, pausing a second before turning to the audience to continue. “We believed the gas industry 100 percent and how many of you are kinda having issues now?”
Mike Havelka, chief technical officer with Northshore Energy Services, a Pittsburgh-based gas and oil industry water treatment company with whom FAST Recycling has contracted, explained how Northshore uses an ancient process to filter fracking water much the same way a home tap water filter operates or as commercial water bottlers filter their water.
“I’m saying that if you bought bottled water and drank that, it was treated with technology identical to this,” Havelka said.
The facility is designed to quickly contain any spills which might occur during offloading of wastewater, he said.
“Anybody who has any local groundwater has no issues,” Havelka said.
“Would it leach into our wells?” asked local resident Carol Franklin, who lives right above the former school.
“No, absolutely not,” Havelka said.
Colleen Connolly, a community relations coordinator with the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Wilkes-Barre office, confirmed that FAST Recycling’s permit application is under review by the DEP’s Waste Management Program.
“No timeline has been established yet for a decision on the permit application. It likely could take several months,” Connolly said in an e-mail.
“The department will conduct a thorough and complete review of the permit application for this wastewater treatment facility,” the e-mail said.
Statewide there are 19 oil and gas waste facilities permitted by DEP. Four are in adjacent Susquehanna County, according to Connolly.
“I’m going to believe that they’re telling us the truth, but -- not because I don’t believe them -- I will validate it through our solicitor,” said Braintrim Township supervisor Frank Holdren.
Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry noted that the project would also have to face the township Planning Commission.
Braintrim supervisors sponsored the meeting to learn more about the project and inform townspeople at the same time, he said.
Holdren said that he wished more townspeople had attended the meeting.
“The first thing we have is fear and fear is created most of the time by lack of education on our part,” he said.
Recycling flowback fluids is a preferred method of disposing of fracking waste water, said Dave Yoxtheimer, a hydrogeologist with the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, established in 2010 to monitor and study Marcellus Shale drilling.
“That particular approach to managing the fluids has certainly been preferred by the industry and is one of the best management practices that the industry has developed over the years,” Yoxtheimer said, adding that Pennsylvania’s shale industry is currently recycling 90 per cent of these fluids.
“So what that means is that they need less fresh water, so it does offset the watering needs. It doesn’t have discharge so that you’re not discharging any fluids. What you do end up with is a solid waste,” Yoxtheimer said.
Some radiation is also produced in the process, Yoxtheimer said. “These types of facilities do have to monitor for that radiation to make sure it’s not above whatever regulatory limits are established by the state.”
But the low levels of radiation produced are not anything to worry about, Yoxtheimer said. Facilities of this sort are mandated by law to follow strict radiation safety protocols which should not be of concern to those living or working outside of or near the facility.
“From what I’ve seen there’s no increased risk for the workers as long as they’re following their radiation safety protocols,” he said.